Rep. Walt Rogers in the news
For this week’s newsletter I’m doing something a little different. We’ve got a couple of pictures from the week and I want you to read an article about one of my colleagues. She is Megan Jones, a young representative who I have enjoyed working with on many bills. She is on my Education committee and the other day, Megan ran a bill in committee, while holding her new born baby. It was a beautiful thing to see and I am so proud of Megan and the role model she has become for young moms. Enjoy the article, written by the Des Moines Register Iowa House correspondent, Brianne Pfannenstiel.
Des Moines Register by Brianne Pfannenstiel
She doesn’t talk much in committee meetings — just a few sounds here and there to let you know she’s upset.
And she isn’t much for constituent service or glad-handing with lobbyists, either.
But Alma Lucille Jones is quickly stealing the show in the Iowa House of Representatives as its newest (and smallest) member.
“I’ve joked that she needs to get a secretary,” said Alma’s mom, Rep. Megan Jones. “Because there have been a lot of requests to hold her.”
Jones, a Republican from Sioux Rapids, gave birth Jan. 24 and since early February has been toting the newborn to and from meetings at the Capitol, gently rocking her in a bassinet on the House floor and balancing bottles, blankets and bill numbers as she runs up and down stairs.
“My folks deserve to have a voice here,” Jones said. “They elected me to do a job, and I needed to be here. So it was never a thought that I was going to take more time. I was going to take what we needed and that was it.”
Her husband is a farmer, Jones said, “so it’s not like he can strap a Babybjorn to his chest and be hopping in and out of payloaders and tractors and chasing after cows.” But she praised House leadership for gladly helping to accommodate her and for offering an extra set of hands from time to time.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she would have supported Jones if she’d wanted to take more maternity leave. But she said she hopes this sends a message to moms that they have a place in Iowa’s citizen Legislature.
“Even if you’re a young woman and you’re thinking about starting a family and all those kinds of things, this is still a possibility,” Upmeyer said. “And that’s really kind of a contrast from when I first ran for office and people were still asking me, ‘Well who’s going to take care of your kids?’ despite the fact that I think my youngest one was perhaps a junior in high school.”
Jones, who is an assistant majority leader in the House, has kept up with running legislation through committees and on the floor for debate.
While Jones recently led debate on a bill clarifying legal fees being charged in indigent defense cases, Alma lay sleeping in a rocker next to Jones’ desk on the House floor.
As Alma started to fuss, Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley and the father of two girls, reached across the aisle to feed Alma a bottle while mom finished her work.
“I love kids, and it’s had a very soothing effect — especially on me,” Windschitl said of having Alma around. “These past few weeks have been very stressful with funnel week and the other decisions we have that are before us. So having baby Alma around, it gives you an opportunity to look back and actually remember that we’re doing what we’re doing down here today to make the world a better place for those future generations.”
Jones said she’s enjoyed watching some lawmakers’ tough exteriors crumble around the baby.
“We always talk about (how) sessions have their own personality,” she said. “Last session was pretty heated, pretty intense. We were working on some pretty tough bills. And it’s still early on in this session, but I think she’s really lightened the mood here for a lot of people.”
Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, noted the attention Alma receives is bipartisan.
“Everybody that walks by takes a look at what Alma’s doing — both Democrats and Republicans, everyone’s enamored,” she said.
Although Alma hasn’t been colicky and sleeps most of the day, Jones said it’s added a new layer of challenges to her daily routine.
“Physically, it’s just exhausting,” she said. “I try to keep track of my Fitbit, and the other day I think I went up 29 floors. But you know, when I leave stuff downstairs in the office and I’ve got to go collect that or if she needs changed or food. There’s just a lot more movement and a lot more strategy involved in trying to make sure that all of her needs are attended to.”
Upmeyer, who is a mother of five, said she thinks a mother bringing her baby to work would have been viewed differently back in 2003 when she first assumed office.
Transportation costs are a concern in many reorganized – and geographically larger – districts
DES MOINES — More than 40 percent of Iowa’s school districts would be in line for a one-time cash infusion to help cover their high costs of busing students under a measure advanced Wednesday in the House.
The House Appropriations Committee amended and approved Senate File 455, which under the House version would make $11.2 million available for busing students to and from school.
The bill also seeks to address an inequity in per-pupil funding with another $2.8 million.
Transportation costs long have been a concern for school administrators and lawmakers as enrollments declined and, in many cases, reorganizations resulted in geographically larger districts.
Under the House Republican plans. 140 of the state’s 333 school districts would get a share of the $11.2 million. Transportation costs run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek, far over the statewide average.
The House plan would buy down the district share of those costs to $432 per pupil, said Education Committee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Ralls. So, for example, North Winneshiek would get $537 per pupil for a total of $152,247 more.
Democrats objected to the plan because it is a one-time appropriation only. SF 455 as approved by the Senate called for ramping up the state share of transportation costs over 10 years.
“It concerns me that we are not willing to address the inequities we know are there in a significant way,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “It disappoints me this is the best we can do.”
The transportation relief for those districts would be in addition to a 1 percent increase — a total of about $32 million more — in statewide aid for schools that lawmakers have agreed on.
“We’re putting a lot of money into those top districts,” Rogers said. “To say this is nothing is wrong.”
Winckler also was disappointed in the per-pupil inequity piece that would lessen the funding gap for Davenport and other districts from $175 per pupil per year to $170. The disparity between districts dates to the 1970s when the state set per-pupil levels.
According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, 161 districts will get an additional $5 per student from the state. That will generate $1.3 million in local property tax relief for the districts.
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Delivering on Promises
This week was the first legislative “funnel” which means policy bills need to be voted out of at least one committee to remain eligible.
At the beginning of the legislative session, House Republicans promised to address many of Iowans’ top priorities as well as some of the major challenges they face. House Republicans are delivering on those promises with real policy solutions.
Addressing Iowa’s Health Care Challenges:
Opioids: Nearly every Iowan has been affected or knows someone who has been affected by opioid addiction and abuse. House Republicans have proposed House File 2299, a comprehensive plan to combat the opioid epidemic by preventing doctor shopping, reducing overprescribing, and supporting Iowans suffering from addiction.
Mental Health: The topic of mental healthcare continues to be top of mind for many Iowans and we are working to provide vulnerable Iowans with mental health services closer to home and in their local communities. Legislation was introduced this week that builds on Iowa’s community-based mental health system and makes significant improvements to ensure Iowans have access to critical mental health services.
Individual Health Insurance Market: Thousands of Iowans have been negatively impacted by the implosion of Obamacare, which has destroyed Iowa’s health insurance market. This disaster was predicted at the outset, and now hard-working Iowans are faced with sky-rocketing premiums and no choice. We have proposed House File 2364 which would allow Iowans to purchase health benefit plans that provide a low-cost alternative to traditional health insurance. This will provide Iowans with more choice and a more affordable health care option.
Best Week for Education Ever
Funding: Schools will receive an additional $32 million in funding for the 2018-29 school year. This will bring annual investment for K-12 education to more than $3.2 billion dollars, an increase of $765 million since 2011 (+30%).
Flexibility: My Education Committee continuing to build on last year’s success to provide schools with more flexibility and control over their resources. Schools need to be able to make more decisions at the local level, rather than top-down directives from bureaucrats in Des Moines. The flexibility measures we’ve taken in the past two years have freed up millions of dollars across the state for funding that doesn’t often get recognized in the overall school funding discussions.
Infrastructure: The school infrastructure fund, known as SAVE, passed in my committee almost unanimously. This program has been highly successful in allowing school districts to make improvements to aging infrastructure, provide safe classrooms, and keep up with technological changes.
Transportation: My Education Committee also passed additional funding to address unequal transportation costs. Some districts spend as little as $100 per student while others spend almost $1,000. We want to ensure that as much funding makes its way into Iowa classrooms to improve student’s educational experience. Our plan provides $11 million in funding to bring the maximum transportation cost for districts down to $432 per student. It also commits dollars to work towards the tax equity issue that some schools in the state face.
In the words of one of our longtime education lobbyists, “This has been the best week for Education in Iowa ever!”
Gov. Reynolds’ Tax Reform Plan
This week, Governor Reynolds released her plan to reform Iowa’s outdated and complex tax code. Her plan reduces the number of tax brackets, significantly reduces tax rates, raises the standard deduction, and includes safeguards to protect budget sustainability. Her plan provides significant and immediate relief to middle class Iowans.
The House will work off of the Governor’s plan and will continue listening to Iowans to gather more input.
Tax reform at the federal level has caused Iowans’ state taxes to increase due to federal deductibility. It was never Congress’ intent for federal tax cuts to be used to grow government. That money needs to remain with Iowa taxpayers.
A review of Iowa’s tax code is well in order. The last time that Iowa reformed its tax code:
- Hayden Fry was still the head football coach at the University of Iowa
- Titanic was the #1 movie at the box office and was released in a 2 VHS box set
- Seinfeld began its final season on television
- Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple iPhone had not yet been invented
House Republicans believe Iowans deserve a tax code that is simpler, fairer, and more competitive. Any tax reform package needs to focus on the average, middle class Iowan. Additionally, it will require a pragmatic approach that protects the key priorities of Iowans.
Delivering K-12 Funding – $32 Million
Iowa is a leader in K-12 education funding, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new money since 2011. A recent report said Iowa is “bucking the trend nationally,” and is fourth best in the nation in funding increases.
House Republicans have continually made K-12 education funding a top priority for the state. While other areas of the state budget have seen reductions in recent years, House Republicans have protected schools from any cuts during this time.
These investments are paying off as Iowa leads the country in high school graduation rates and student’s ACT scores are among the best in the nation.
House Republicans’ record on schools is strong:
- $3.2 billion in annual funding
- $765 million increase over FY11 (30%)
- 2,363 new teachers
- Student to teacher ratio has dropped every year since FY11
The House will also continue working on the K-12 package announced last week to provide schools with:
- More funding, including transportation support
- More infrastructure
- More flexibility
- More innovation
Democrats continue their annual false talking points, arguing that this increase in funding will lead to teacher layoffs and higher class sizes. Nonpartisan data has proven otherwise:
Iowa House Republicans unveiled a plan Thursday that would devote $10 million to equalizing school transportation costs and extend a sales tax that is expected to provide billions of dollars for school infrastructure projects over 20 years.
The plan is intended to supplement a proposed $32 million increase in per-pupil costs, which is less than what many public school advocates had hoped to see.
“We’ve done a lot of listening to parents and teachers and superintendents and school board members and rural and urban districts,” said House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls. “So we’re in the process of listening to all these people, and that has influenced the package that we are putting together this year.”
Public school advocates have long sought a more equitable way to fund transportation costs, which vary widely by district.
The West Burlington Independent School District, for example, spends $9.56 per student — the lowest amount in the state, according to data from the Iowa Association of School Boards. But in the North Winneshiek Community School District, where it is most expensive, it costs $969.60 to transport each student to and from school.
“We’re right in the middle of a reorganization vote next week with Decorah,” said North Winneshiek Superintendent Tim Dugger. “If we’d had this (bill) several years ago we may not be trying to consolidate. … This has been going on for years, and we’ve tried to explain our situation and what we’re dealing with. It’s just too late for us.”
Dugger said about one-sixth of the money the school district receives from the state goes toward transportation costs. He said that if those costs were brought down to the statewide average, which is $314.38 per student, the district could put more money toward classroom resources or toward hiring a new teacher.
The plan Republican leaders announced Thursday calls for the creation of a state fund that would distribute money to the school districts where the disparity is most pronounced. They said they plan to make a one-time $10 million commitment to that fund.
“We’re still working on that exact (distribution) formula,” Rogers said. “But obviously we want to give attention to the most needy of rural districts that are struggling with this right now.”
The plan also calls for a 20-year extension of the state’s one-cent sales tax, known as SAVE, which is set to expire in 2029. That program allows school school districts to bond against the tax revenue to fund building repairs, new construction and classroom technology.
Many school superintendents say they’ve already bonded against the full lifetime of that revenue stream and need an extension to fund future projects.
Lawmakers hope to extend the tax as a way to provide “long-term predictability for our schools and (to give) them the resources that they need to build safe classrooms for our students, modern classrooms for our students,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said it currently estimates a 20-year extension of that tax would generate between $15.45 billion and $16.12 billion for school districts across the state.
However, Hinson noted an extension may be paired with some changes to the way the money is spent.
She said the Legislature would like to see more of the money go toward buying down property tax rates in districts where taxes exceed the statewide average. She said lawmakers also are considering adding another layer of oversight and accountability for districts that spend the money on athletics facilities.
“I think the priority is on schools,” Hinson said. “If a school needs a boiler and they build an athletic facility, people might think those priorities were a little bit backwards. So I think what we’re trying to do is make sure dollars go to what they should go to first as a priority.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said the House has had preliminary conversations with the Senate and the governor’s office about the direction they’d like to go.
“Right now there’s broad agreement on the topics,” she said.
Dugger said he appreciates the broader package of funding initiatives for schools in addition to the one percent per-pupil funding increase.
“Those things definitely will help Iowa schools, especially the rural schools,” he said. “But as far as North Winn, we’re about three or four years too late with this (transportation) equity piece.”
Brianne Pfannenstiel, email@example.com
Des Moines Register
A House panel has sent the education committee a bill that would help school districts with high transportation costs. Some rural districts spend twice as much as the state average on getting students to school.
If signed into law, the proposal would immediately start to phase in transportation aid over the next five years, and the program would continue after that.
Rep. Tedd Gassman, (R-Scarville), says he has been working on this issue for six years.
“You can’t argue with me about, if I’m going to take $300, $400, or $700 out of a classroom compared to other schools that that isn’t an inequity,” Gassman says. “And it needs to be fixed.”
Rep. Art Stead, (D-Cedar Rapids), signed off on the bill, but says he would prefer to move forward with a bill from last year that provides more funding.
“So my concern is that this patch, and I’ll call it a patch, is helpful,” Stead says. “But I hope it’s not the death knell for Senate File 455.”
“I think it’s so important to get something started that we can afford right now,” Gassman says. “And we can’t afford Senate File 455.”
Gassman says after the five-year rollout, the program would cost about $8.6 million each year.
The student transportation aid bill considered during the 2017 legislative session was expected to cost the state more than $200 million over a decade.
House Republicans Thursday also announced a one-time commitment to spend $10 million in the next fiscal year to help school districts with high transportation costs.
“It’s intended to be a fund that we will continue to have,” says Rep. Walt Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Education Committee. “At this point, we’re committed to putting $10 million into it this year.”
By KATARINA SOSTARIC
Iowa Public Radio
A bill, HSB 578, making the University of Iowa’s Iowa Testing Programs the vendor who develops and administers Iowa’s statewide student assessment passed the Iowa House Education Committee 21 to 1 on Wednesday afternoon. This is the latest stage in the years-long debate over assessments in Iowa. The Iowa Testing Programs developed and administered the Iowa Assessments (previously known as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that was a standard for many schools nationwide for many years).
In 2010, Iowa joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as a participating member and later as a governing member. The assessment was pilot-tested in several school districts, and the Iowa State Board of Education eventually approved the assessment even after the Joint Administrative Rules Committee unanimously dissented.
The Iowa Legislature in 2016 voted to delay the implementation of Smarter Balanced, and former Governor Terry Branstad issued a line-item veto for that since it was in an appropriations bill.
In September, the Iowa Department of Education announced the winning bid was American Institutes for Research (AIR). Their assessment proposal called Independent College and Career Readiness Solution scored highest overall in a competitive-bidding process that followed criteria set by Iowa lawmakers in 2017 when Branstad signed Senate File 240 into law.
Pearson filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and Iowa Department of Education to halt the implementation of the state’s $31 million testing agreement with AIR. In their petition, Pearson argues that scoring of bids was riddled with “preferential treatment and bias.”
State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville), who was designated as the floor manager for the bill when it comes up for debate, told Caffeinated Thoughts that many of her colleagues wanted an Iowa-based assessment.
There is a desire to end the assessment debate and move on as well.
“Superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents are tired of the process to pick a statewide assessment, and realize that ongoing judicial decisions may make the process longer,” State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Education Committee, told Caffeinated Thoughts. “This is why my committee, in an almost unanimous way, passed HSB 578.”
Salmon said while it is a small step, passing the bill through committee is progress in the fight against Common Core.
She said this bill is “the first time that the committee has passed any legislation striking back at Common Core.”
Salmon acknowledged that the Iowa Assessments align with the Iowa Core whose math and ELA standards are the Common Core Math and ELA standards. She added that the assessment tests Iowa-specific standards, however, and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments will cost taxpayers $11 million less than the state’s tentative contract with AIR.
She also stated she does not have the same data privacy concerns with the Iowa Testing Program that she has with AIR. AIR has contracts with the U.S. Department of Education to provide research, and they have been student data mining pioneers. Should the bill pass Salmon said the legislature “has to be diligent to protect student privacy.”
She plans to introduce a student data privacy bill this year.
Salmon also said there was concern about AIR’s ties with Smarter Balanced, an assessment the Iowa Legislature has rejected, and the fact they do not have a science test ready to unlike the Iowa Testing Progam. She also said the Iowa Assessments and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments come in pencil and paper format for school districts who are not ready for computer-adaptive tests.
BY: Shane Vander Hart
Editor & Founder at Caffeinated Thoughts
DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers could require that students pass a civics exam in order to receive a high school diploma.
The test covers a basic knowledge of American democracy, its system of government and history, and is the same one immigrants take to become U.S. citizens.
“It’s common sense that kids today should have an understanding of basic U.S. civics,” said Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, who chairs the House education committee. He introduced the bill, which has been referred to a subcommittee.
House Study Bill 573 would require students to correctly answer at least 60% of the questions on the exam given by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the same percentage required of immigrants who want to become citizens.
The federal agency has identified 100 questions covering a range of civics knowledge, from a citizen’s rights and responsibilities to the United States’ history, geography and symbolism.
Similar proposals have been introduced in Iowa before and have passed in multiple other states. The effort is sought by national groups, including Civics Education Initiative and the Joe Foss Institute.
It also comes at a time when many Americans can’t answer basic questions about their government.
More than one-third can’t name any of the rights protected by the First Amendment, according to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
In addition, only 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government.
“I think it’s good that our students understand the civics of our country,” Rogers said.
The idea is to use the same questions used in a naturalization interview, when immigrants are asked 10 non-multiple choice questions from a list of 100. It’s not clear if Iowa students would answer all 100 questions.
If the proposal passes, the civics exam would be the first test required to earn a high school diploma or its equivalency in Iowa. Testing would begin in the 2019-20 school year. An alternative exam would be developed for special education students or those learning English.
Students could take the test as many times as necessary in order to pass. The exam would be offered at least once a year starting in seventh grade, the bill says.
Passing the civics exam would be required of all students in public school districts and accredited non-public schools.
Education and tourism interests last clashed in 2015
DES MOINES — After more than two years of relative tranquilly, some lawmakers are not eager to open another fight between Iowa’s tourist industry and education officials over when classes should begin this fall.
“I would say when we passed that bill a couple of years ago, we went through a lot of discussion,” said Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, chairman of the House Education Committee. “I’m not sure my caucus is in a place to want to bring it up again, but we’ll find out.”
Some semblance of order was brought to a hodgepodge of school start dates when former Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation in April 2015 that says classes at Iowa’s K-12 public schools may start no sooner than Aug. 23. Before that, only 14 out of 338 districts had started after Aug. 23 in the 2014-15 school year under a waiver that was eliminated in the new law.
Branstad — who had ordered the Iowa Department of Education to strictly enforce the old law that said schools must start no earlier than the week that includes Sept. 1 — hailed the Aug. 23 date as a compromise between schools that wanted control over their calendars and tourism interests that wanted a start closer to or after Labor Day.
Aug. 23 was selected in part because that’s the latest date the 11-day Iowa State Fair ends.
Now, Senate File 2064, which has moved out of a Senate Education subcommittee, seeks to modify the 2015 law by saying the earliest date for classes to start would be Aug. 23 or the Monday following the closing day of the state fair, whichever occurs earlier.
For 2018, that means classes could begin Aug. 20 if the bill becomes law.
“I think this bill reflects that original intent to have more uniformity in the start date but to also accommodate the state fair,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who supported it in subcommittee.
Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, the bill’s author, said he proposed the change at the request of his local officials who hoped the earlier start would allow them to finish fall classes before their winter break.
“It’s just a little change but it would make a world of difference,” said Lofgren.
However, officials from the tourism industry and county fairs oppose the change, saying it would create economic hardships and undo a compromise.
“For about 20 years we have tried to make the case that every day that school creeps farther and farther into August, it affects the tourism industry,” said Craig Patterson, a lobbyist for the Travel Federation of Iowa. Each lost tourism day in Iowa’s Great Lakes’ region represents about $1 million in business, he said.
“Our folks were not happy with the compromise the first time,” Patterson said. “We felt we gave a lot.”
Representatives of education organizations said the proposed change would give them more flexibility in setting their school calendars.
“This would be helpful,” said Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist for Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network of Iowa, who expressed concern that the “summer slide” linked to long summer breaks can hurt academic achievement, especially among students from low-income families who cannot afford enrichment activities.
One subcommittee member, Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, agreed with that, saying he has grandchildren in Australia and benefit from attending year-round schools there.
“County fairs I love; the state fair I love. But kids to me are a little bit higher on the totem pole,” Rozenboom said.